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Worship that works – spirituality that connects
« Thomas Merton
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There’s probably no God?
Published on December 14, 2009 in liturgy and spirituality.
Tags: atheism, atheists, bus ads, faith, new zealand, spirituality, twitter.
now for something completely
Week starting September 12
My Our Father gift to the
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Mary Margaret Douglas tells
the story of Jonah
campaign”. Atheists are raising $NZ10,000 to mimic the UK campaign
be a fan on Facebook
New Zealand is following other countries in having an “atheist bus
Week starting September 5
and place “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your
life” on several buses in major New Zealand cities. Approximately 12
buses in Auckland, 8 in Wellington and 4 in Christchurch will feature the
virtual chapel online
link to this site
ads for 4 weeks. Television presenter Mike Hosking caught organiser
Simon Fisher on the hop with his first question “why bother?” Hosking,
who thinks there probably is no God, cannot see the motivation or
purpose for the campaign – and Fisher reacted as if he had never
thought of this most obvious of questions. That was soon followed by Jo
Kelly-Moore, the Vicar of St Aidans, in Remuera, clearly running circles
around Fisher’s weak points.
Rather than fear, or tut-tut, this campaign, I welcome the opportunity for
some serious dialogue. One of my followers on twitter interestingly
pointed out that Fisher’s language echoed the Alpha course. Alpha may
be OK for introducing people who have no idea about Christianity to it –
but please can we not stay at the level of alpha – please can we move on
towards kappa or further. The website of the NZ Atheist Bus Campaign,
over which (rather than the soundbite TV debate) they have full control –
does not appear to give an adequate definition for “God” which the site is
dedicated to stating “probably does not exist”. The discussions, which I
am welcoming, may help Christians to move beyond rather simplistic
definitions of God (alpha) towards the classical definitions in which God
i s n o t m e r e l y “a supernatural being”
alongside other beings
Church of England logo
persons of the feminine sex
Mike Crowl on now for
Christy on Christchurch
Bosco Peters on now for
Brian on My Our Father gift to
Mike Crowl on now for
Becky Carpenter on
Milly Hopkins on Earthquake
Audrey on Christchurch
Xenaclone on Christchurch
Kathy Pozos on My Our Father
gift to the Vatican
(”supernatural” or “natural”) – as if adding God to this coffee cup results
in now having two “objects”. And with the rather regularly trite comment
that atheists believe in merely one less god than Christians do… Hence,
Christians and other theists, may be enriched by this discussion into
deepening the expression of their faith, revisiting the apophatic tradition
(alongside the more common kataphatic approach) of Christianity,
emphasising the transcendent nature of God (alongside God’s a t-
Christmas-time-particularly-appropriate immanent nature).
Let’s have some nuanced discussion, rather than the popular Richard
Dawkins approach of pitting the best of science against the most
simplistic, childish, flat-earth theism, where every few sentences Dawkins
drops a clanger demonstrating his lack of reading of any theist up to
beta, let alone kappa! Let’s acknowledge the great damage that bad
religion and bad theology and bad spirituality have done. But I don’t see
Dawkins giving up sex or money just because of the great damage that
sex and money have done in human history! And let’s not pretend that
Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong are particularly good exemplars of the
USA version of this campaign which had the slogan: “Why believe in a
god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Are those atheists an explanation
of what “good” means in a world without a god? Can you be good for
goodness sake? Or do we need help to be good? And might being good
(for goodness sake) be a sign of God – rather than a denial? Fisher’s
s l i g h t o f h a n d w i t h o u t a n y e x p l a n a t i o n , t h a t “atheism” means
“humanism” certainly needs justification. It seems to me that it is belief in
God and the sacredness of God’s creation that leads to valuing human
life – it will take a lot more than a tweet-length bus slogan to convince
10 11 12
me that atheism naturally leads to people caring for others as a
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30
There’s also a need to tidy other definitions:
Theist – believes in God
Atheist – believes there is no God
Agnostic (type A) – believes it is not possible to know
Agnostic (type B) – “I don’t know…”
Also the word “belief” can do with some clarification. Belief in God as a
solely cerebral affirmation is a relatively new usage. “I believe in God” is
originally more about trust, about commitment – in the sense of I believe
in democracy, I believe in the All Blacks. Certainly “I believe in Jesus” has
nothing to do with the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth which is accepted
by all but the most extreme of scholars – yet popularly, and amongst
some young people, they equate belief in Jesus alongside belief in the
tooth-fairy, or at this time, Santa.
Alongside the atrocities of religion, let’s also list off some of the
positives: art, music, science, technology, literature, genetics (Dawkins
take note), the concept of the Big Bang (a real shock originally mocked
by atheists), Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Shakespeare,
Mozart, Bach, Beethoven,…
Alongside the need to clarify the definition of “God”, we are invited to
clarify the nature o f “God”. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” is
based on an impression of an almighty punishing ogre in the sky. As
Kelly-Moore made crystal clear in the TV interview, nothing could
(should!) be further from a Christian perspective of God, a God who is
So, in summary, let’s not react against these ads – they are a wonderful
opportunity not only to deepen our own reflection, but to clarify the
misunderstandings between us. Atheists can be prophets, challenging
the idols that Christians present. And just as God does not agree with all
done in God’s name – however frequently and fervently God’s name is
repeated – so God is not absent from atheists’ lives – however frequently
and fervently denied.
If you like the image above, you can drag and drop it into your own blog
or use the following HTML
mce_href=”http://www.liturgy.co.nz” title=”bus ads”><img
You can also produce your own (you can give your version in the
In passing, spend four minutes listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Jesu
Joy of Man’s Desiring
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne
Through the way where hope is guiding
Hark, what peaceful music rings
Where the flock, in Thee confiding
Drink of joy from deathless springs
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown
56 Responses to “There’s probably no God?”
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December 14, 2009 at 4:01 pm
It’s a surprising cop-out by the atheists who are promoting this ad
campaign both here and abroad that they can’t actually come out and
say, There IS not God. Probably? What are they afraid of?
December 14, 2009 at 6:10 pm
If they say there is no God, then they are making a conclusion. A
conclusion that they can not backup with anything concrete. They will
make fool of themselves by publicly and officially stating this. It
seems/is very arrogant and they don’t want that. This is a PR thing.
So these days they prefer to redefine ‘atheist’ as a lack of belief in God
… it’s not a belief that they believe that there is no God … so my car is
an atheist too, for it lacks any belief including belief in God.
good luck in trying to educate them that atheist is a belief.
December 14, 2009 at 6:55 pm
it was Mike Hosking not Mark Sainsbury!
December 14, 2009 at 9:40 pm
Bosco – not entirely sure I followed all of your post but thank you. It
has certainly given me more to think about personally – at a time
when my core faith is being thoroughly challeneged anyway.
Interesting to note that in the UK the campaign has had little impact
from what I can tell.
But like you, I welcome the discussions it creates even though I don’t
have all the answers.
December 14, 2009 at 9:56 pm
‘There probably is no bus, now get off your mat and walk’
Being a part time London-dweller, I saw these busses. I call it an
aspect of living in a secular state.
The ‘New-Atheism’ discussion is one that, at best, irritates me due to
it’s lack of proper scholarship (Dawkins). But a lot of believer rise to
the bait, and get into these silly discussions which really lead nowhere.
It’s all nonsense to me.
December 14, 2009 at 11:48 pm
Well said. The way I read it is that saying “there’s probably no God” is
the opposite assertion to “there is a God”, not “there is God” – the
indefinite article making all the difference. We have long exceeded the
idea of God as “a being” or indeed an anything and now lean towards
more conceptual attempts-at-understandings (how does “the sum of
all experience” float your boat?).
God is not some superman, whose existence needs proven or
otherwise; yet God is meaningful!
December 14, 2009 at 11:50 pm
So these days they prefer to redefine ‘atheist’ as a lack of belief in God
I’m not sure which `they’ we’re talking about here, but in my limited
experience, atheists like to think of the term in two strengths-ofargument: weak = “no belief in God” (eg failure to see evidence);
strong = “belief in no God”.
December 15, 2009 at 12:35 am
I could be open-minded and have a rational discussion about religion
and God, but this is impossible with most atheists. It is their “I’m right
and you’re wrong” mentality that prevents it. So much time, effort,
money being put to trying to debunk and destroy others’ beliefs. And
the thing that bothers me the most is the mocking, using such terms
or comparisons as “flying spaghetti monster” or comparisons to Santa
and the tooth fairy. I am a Christian, but I’d never go out of my way to
mock another person’s religion and be offensive. Have a discussion
about the negative vs. positive aspects of religion through out history
and present time? I’m there. Use sarcasm and an intense, almost
obsessive desire to stop me from believing? Not interested.
December 15, 2009 at 2:18 am
Interesting to see what’s going on – faith wise – halfway ’round the
I agree with @Mike above. Why stick the “probably” in the phrase? Are
even the atheists trying to hold out some hope?
Bear in mind, some of the most interesting discussions I’ve had with
atheists have also included some form of the following conversation:
Me: “One of the problems I see is that we’ve devolved the world into
so many shades of gray and choose not to recognize that there are
absolutes related to right and wrong.”
Atheists: “But there are no absolutes since there is no God.”
Me: “So, you don’t believe there are any absolutes?”
To be fair, I’ve only gotten that last answer once or twice.
But, I do get into the quick discussion that simply by stating there are
no absolutes is an absolute statement – thus negating the whole
December 15, 2009 at 2:34 am
Oh, how boring. I expect a lot more from New Zealanders than blindly
copying what everyone else did last year. Where’s your imagination?
And how about something a bit more culturally specific like “THERE’S
PROBABLY NO BILBO BAGGINS.” Or would that be a heresy too far in
your neck of the woods.
December 15, 2009 at 4:13 am
I have heard it said, “there is no true atheist”
Cynde Jackson Clarke
December 15, 2009 at 7:34 am
Great topic! I’ve been doing a lot of reading so that I am able to
educate others when faced with this kind of discussion or position
rather than just saying I believe because I just do.
and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is my FAVORITE! so are Celtic
December 15, 2009 at 7:46 am
Thanks, Peter, that publicly gives away how little TV I watch
watched this on the linked clip – not on a box) Corrected the post
December 15, 2009 at 7:52 am
The reason for the probably, as I undersfand it, is that the Advertising
Standards Agency in Britain insisted on it. This might have been so
that it was not too offensive or polemical!
December 15, 2009 at 8:55 am
It’s interesting that people are assuming it’s the Christian God. From
what I’ve been reading they’re more looking at it from the point of
view of addressing there probably being no god. Meaning any god.
The signage is all-caps which is misleading.
December 15, 2009 at 9:03 am
I recently attended a humanist funeral and was struck by two things:
The attempt to rubbish the opposition. I’ve attended many Christian
funerals and can honestly say I’ve never heard atheist beliefs being
I was interested to hear things that self-respecting atheists should
not believe. The minister gave the departed what he called a ‘blessing’
he addressed the deceased as if he continued to exist.
He quoted the ‘Jacobean poet’ John Donne saying that no man is an
island…any man’s death diminishes me…send not to ask..for thee.
Which could have just about been acceptable if he was referencing
one of Donne’s poems (Holy Sonnets perhaps) but of course he was
quoting from one of the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral’s sermons.
December 15, 2009 at 9:08 am
Hi Thomas, your article reads: “Television presenter Mike Hosking
caught organiser Simon Fraser on the hop with his first question “why
bother?” Hosking, who thinks there probably is no God, cannot see
the motivation or purpose for the campaign – and Fraser reacted as if
he had never thought of this most obvious of questions.”
That’s a rather uncharitable view of events Thomas. And presumably
you mean Simon Fisher.
Of course assuming that silence means you’re right isn’t sensible
thinking, and it reminds me of what creationists viewed of Dawkins
answer to a question about increase in information in the genome
@Mike “I agree with @Mike above. Why stick the “probably” in the
phrase? Are even the atheists trying to hold out some hope?”
Your use of the word “hope” is an interesting one. Why would hope
have anything to do with it? Atheists don’t bend the world to what we
hope it might be, that’s wishful thinking.
Instead “probably” is about being intellectually honest about the limits
of human knowledge. To say there certainly is a Christian God or
certainly isn’t a Christian God, or there certainly are Unicorns or Zeus
(or certainly aren’t) would be a position of faith.
So there’s no evidence that distinguishes the Christian God from
Zeus, Scientology’s Xemu, Wotan, or a million other gods that people
have felt in their lives.
For an explanation of the campaign see this writeup here
December 15, 2009 at 9:54 am
Thanks Matthew for correcting my Fraser to Fisher (& doing so by
your giving me a new name also LOL!) – I’ve corrected the post.
As to your “teapot atheism” & “going one god further” in your own
post linked here – that is exactly the populist, simplistic approach of
Dawkins that I hope this campaign will allow us to move a bit deeper
than. It is very “alpha”. Let’s move towards “kappa”. I have already
highlighted that “belief” is more than “acknowledge existence of” –
and that God, unlike your teapot analogy, is not an “object” that can
be added to another to increase the number of objects by one.
December 15, 2009 at 10:14 am
I have had a number of quite interesting discussions with followers of
It has not been difficult to develop an argument, based on their
premises, that they rely on blind faith for their position. It is upsetting
to them when they recognize the end point of their logic — but they
cannot refute it and do not try.
As the discussion progresses it is usually interesting to find they do
not admire Dawkins as much as one might expect. They recognize the
weakness of his position and recognize he is a bit of a wild-haired
That aside I believe there is money to be made. Church schools could
sell space on the side of their buses. It is a way to earn money and
show tolerance that reflects a deep faith. The pitch to the atheists
would be that given it is a matter of probability, they might as well
hedge their bet by displaying the sign while making a donation.
December 15, 2009 at 10:26 am
Well the ‘teapot analogy’ isn’t at all about whether the Christian God
could be added to or subtracted from like an object, but rather it’s a
statement about human judgment and how we have distinct and
contradictory ideas that we must choose from. These ideas may be
supernatural or not, hence a physical teapot in orbit around the sun
where some people say it doesn’t exist and some people say it does
So the ‘teapot analogy’ isn’t about how gods operate and whether
they’re divisible but rather it’s a statement about how humans acquire
knowledge in a sea of competing ideas.
If someone were to say they’re “sitting on the fence” when it comes to
the issue of the existence of unicorns it would sound odd to us
because there’s no evidence for unicorns. Yet we don’t say we’re
agnostic about unicorns, we just say they don’t exist. Atheist about
unicorns more accurately fits how most people feel about the idea of
So the ‘teapot analogy’ is more about how we as humans acquire
knowledge, and whether we are ‘agnostic’ about unicorns or ‘atheist’
about unicorns when we don’t have any proof. It’s not about
Now we may consider whether religion is different to other ideas like
unicorns or celestial teapots. It seems that you may think it is
difference because you’ve talked about spiritualism (and please
excuse me if I’m wrong on the following, I don’t know if you do
believe this and I’m new to this website).
If your view on spiritualism is that the various religions are merely
glimpses of a Christian God, or perhaps that the Christian God is the
wrong name for some underlying spirit/ghost, then how do you
resolve competing ideas in religions (homosexuality, abortion, the
other hot topics!) or manufactured religions like Cargo Cults or
Scientology? Isn’t it true that humans are capable of feeling spiritual
when there’s nothing there, or do you think Cargo Cults and
Scientology are taping into something?
The teapot analogy is about
Mostly it’s the
Certainly you can “increase the number of objects by one” when ywhat
people believe in.
December 15, 2009 at 10:29 am
Here’s a good video of Simon Fisher talking about the campaign,
December 15, 2009 at 10:33 am
Hmm… Looking a the OP it is headed up with the name Thomas,
however clicking it takes you to another post though. No where in or
around the OP does it credit you as the author. It’s an easy
assumption to make. I made it myself.
As for the ‘alpha’ and ‘kappa’ labels I’ve always thought the Alpha
courses where a blight on the Church. They just feel to cultish. :/
December 15, 2009 at 10:39 am
Wake ppl, there is a God. I am sorry if you do not believe. I do, nothing
can chance that. Alto of my views have changed throughout my life,
but one thing has ALWAYS remained the same and that is my faith…
faith in God & His very real existence. I dont think something as
magnificent and intriguing as the Human being could have come out
of no where… Think about it, if there is no God, then there would be
no ethics… no morals… no feelings (happiness, love, etc). There
would not be anything. God is love, God is peace… God is everything.
Just my opinion.
December 15, 2009 at 10:47 am
Ah, Morgan, I see – it looks to some like Thomas Merton wrote this
post? Well that should help increase its popularity
and next posts are just put up there automatically by the wordpress
theme (Matthew has exactly the same on his site that he links from
here). The author of this site is not that far from the post – see “about”
December 15, 2009 at 11:05 am
@Matthew I hope you might explain what you mean by “supernatural”
The teapot and the unicorns are (possible) physical objects you can
detect and analyse using scientific methods. You can add a teapot to
this cup & now have two “objects”.
“Feeling spiritual” is a feeling – able to be detected and analysed by
God is neither physical. Nor an “object”. You cannot use scientific
methods to detect or analyse God. You cannot add God to this cup &
now have two “objects”. God is not in the category of teapots and
unicorns. There is no analogy.
Jean Paul Datuin
December 15, 2009 at 1:04 pm
“There’s probably no God” means they’re unsure if there is one. What
are they afraid of? The truth?
December 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm
mid-Atlantic, April 1912, : “That was probably not an iceberg. So
relax and enjoy your dinner and dancing”
John Sobert Sylvest
December 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm
It is true that the “New” atheists engage but a caricature of authentic
belief. And they, in turn, offer us naught but a caricature of a more
philosophically rigorous atheism.
Those of us who subscribe to a radically incarnational view of reality
certainly want to affirm that humankind can indeed be good for
goodness sake. We can and do pursue truth, beauty, goodness and
unity because such a pursuit is its own reward. Of course, we also
view our existential orientations to these intrinsically rewarding
values as transcendental imperatives. We believe that humans can
recognize and realize these values without the benefit of special
divine revelation. So, we acknowledge the possibility of an implicit
faith even as we maintain that, with an explicit faith, believers can
move more swiftly and with less hindrance toward these values on
life’s transformative journey.
I enjoy natural theology, metaphysics and philosophy but
acknowledge that beyond our evidential, rational and
presuppositional arguments, which, at the most, establish the
reasonableness of faith, it is our existential experience of God that
gifts us with a confident assurance in the things we hope for. Beyond
our abstract speculative formulations and cognitive propositions, it is
our participatory imagination that best engages reality, not just
religiously but also scientifically and philosophically and relationally.
This imagination is shaped and formed by liturgies of the mall, the
marketplace, the stadium and our worship, where we learn (and
finally decide) to most desire one Kingdom or another.
So, we do not even want to deny that one can live a life of abundance
and realize life’s great values without an explicit belief in God (even
as we have our own faith-based interpretations of why this may be so
and Who makes this possible). Neither would we deny, however, that a
life of faith is a life of SUPERabundance, enabling us to journey more
swiftly and with less hindrance along The Way.
December 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm
Again Bosco you seem confused about what the ‘Teapot Atheism’ is
It’s not about supernatural beliefs such as gods (Zeus, Thor, etc.) or
trying to measure them scientifically. Like you, I agree that there’s no
way to objectively detect and analyse any gods.
Teapot Atheism is instead a statement about how we decide anything
in life and what the default position is. Are we all agnostic about
faeries, or do we just say they don’t exist until it’s proven otherwise.
As religion seems to be a touchy subject, imagine if I said that there’s
an dinosaur in my garage but I wouldn’t let you see it. Would you be
agnostic about the dinosaur or would you simply say it doesn’t exist
until shown otherwise?
Now what if the dinosaur is a dragon?
December 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm
Wow… Just noticed that they managed to get the $20,000 they were
December 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm
Regarding the use of the word ‘probably’;
They’re using that word because they’re being honest. They can’t be
100% certain. No one can. That’s where science comes in. But in this
area there’s no way to use science to test for God.
I think anyone that claims with 100% certainty when it comes to faith
is either delusion or arrogance.
I don’t know with 100% certainty that God is real, but I have faith that
I think it’s commendable of them for using ‘probably’ where they are.
It suggests there’s hope for them and that should they find faith
they’re open to it.
December 15, 2009 at 3:27 pm
With respect, I do not think that I am at all confused about the
epistemological methodology of the Teapot Atheism analogy. I am
merely highlighting that whilst it is applicable to your other objects:
faeries, dinosaurs in garages, dragons, etc. It is totally inapplicable to
God as God is not an object. “Existence” is not predicated of God in
the same sense as it is predicated of, for example, a teapot.
To use other examples: the number three or beauty are in two
different categories again. In what sense do you understand the
number three existing? Or beauty existing? Or are you atheistic about
those as well. What epistemological methodology do you use to test
for or deny the existence of three or beauty? And before you start
putting God in the same category as three or beauty, may I stress
again that the apophatic tradition and the insistence on the
transcendent nature of God means that placing God alongside three
and beauty may be helpful pointers but they are merely signposts and
not the destination.
Using your single Teapot Atheism methodology epistemologically you
* that anything exists beyond your individual experience of it – you
may be a brain in a vat being fed data to give the illusion (cf. the
* that these other 6ft columns of protoplasm with interesting results
to stimuli that you encounter all around are persons in the sense that
you perceive yourself to be
* that the laws of nature will in the future be anything like you have
perceived them to have been in the past (yes they always have in the
past – prove that therefore they will in the future)
* that your friend/partner/spouse actually cares about you/loves you
* that you have any freedom (limited though it be) to type the letter s
or to choose the letter p
You will need to convince me that you actually live by Teapot Atheism
and use that solely as your epistemological methodology for all of
your life – not merely blog discussions.
December 15, 2009 at 4:12 pm
“As religion seems to be a touchy subject, imagine if I said that there’s
an dinosaur in my garage but I wouldn’t let you see it.”
Except that in the case of The Holy Bible, it contains testimonies and
eye witnesses accounts of many people stretched across thousands of
years (long before The Birth of Christ).
The teachings have been embraced and defended with/by many lives
Would you die to defend your belief that there is a dinosaur in your
Atheist arguments really have not progressed much. Same ol
comparing silly thing with God.
On the other hand, Theist argument has. Check out Kalam
December 15, 2009 at 4:54 pm
And a good discussion about the teapot:
Paul 'The Canterbury Atheist'
December 15, 2009 at 5:19 pm
This as far as I’m aware is the only time the 25% (and growing
percentage) of Kiwi’s who have no superstitious beliefs have ever
bothered to unite and say “we are here and an integral productive
part of society.” and open debate on religions role in the new
More so now we have religious zealots threatening our way of life and
safety of our fellow citizens.
Reminder to all it’s not atheists who fly planes into buildings crying
“Dawkins is great.”
Reminder to all the most peaceful and prosperous nations on the
planet are the most atheistic.
The message is appropriate – the more definitive ‘There is NO God’
having been banned by the bus companies as too controversial.
For those that get upset about the message – how do you know what
God it is the advert is referring to for staters?
One imagines if the adverts say said there is probably no “Zeus” or
“Apollo” you would agree.
It could be one of the thousands of Gods and not the one you happen
to subscribe to – the chances are very small given the number.
I have offered $1000 to anyone who can give me a definition of God
(refer my blog for conditions) and no one has even come close to
giving me a coherent explanation.
On the weekend I had a Seventh Day Adventists knocking on my door
and a flyer for The Alpha Course placed in my letter-box – so
advertising ones beliefs or lack of them is a two way-street and not
one of you has a problem when it is the superstitious who are
advertising their hocus-pocus rather than atheists who say they don’t
believe or need it.
Have a good Northern Winter Solstice (a.k.a Christmas)
I’m getting naked all day on the 25th.
Peace to all mankind.
John Sobert Sylvest
December 15, 2009 at 5:43 pm
Good examples, Bosco.
In one’s anxiety to annihilate metaphysics & God-talk, one does away
with natural science and common sense. So, scientism, logical
positivism and radical empiricism have all been considered
We cannot prove empirically and demonstrate logically 1) common
sense notions of causality 2) the existence of other minds over
against solipsism 3) reality’s intelligibility over against an
epistemological nihilism 4) “first” principles like noncontradiction and
excluded middle 5) a rational and ordered cosmos 6) and so on.
This type of skepticism is indefensible because one ends up sawing
off the epistemological branch where one’s own ontological eggs are
nested. We all, then, move forward with a fundamental trust in
uncertain reality. In other words, we believe these things in order to
know more things. For some, this trust remains nowhere anchored
and paradoxical (cf. Hans Kung). For believers, it is justified in God as
we believe in Him in order to know even more. This is not so much a
way to think about any part of reality, in particular, but a way of
interpreting the whole of reality, in general. Science was largely
birthed in the cradle of Christianity and stillborn elsewhere (cf.
In the much more philosophically rigorous arguments, one’s concepts
are carefully disambiguated and divine attributes are deliberately
predicated (univocal vs equivocal vs relational). As you point out, in
our attempts to increase our descriptive accuracy of a God-concept,
we must be clear whether we are proceeding through a) affirmation
[kataphatically] or b) negation [apophatically]. Terms used to define
the reality (not existence) of God employ only negative properties,
hence such attributes are not logically impossible to coinstantiate in
our arguments (God’s goodness and omnipotence). This not only
guarantees the conceptual compatibility of any attributes we employ
in our conceptualizations of God but avoids any absurdities of
parodied logic (unicorns and faeries). This is not something that can
be explicated and made accessible in this space but for any who want
to dig deeper, look here.
In the end, proofs regarding primal realities like God-concepts and
self-subsisting quantum vacuum fluctuations yield only Scottish
verdicts, unproven. The arguments are not unreasonable though.
They are eminently reasonable. One has a great deal of epistemic
warrant in leveraging one’s fundamental trust in uncertain reality into
a trust in One who grounds that trust. Such a belief is what is known
as a 1) forced (not to choose is to choose), 2) vital (regarding our
most insistent longings and ultimate concerns) and 3) live
(philosophically reasonable) option. God is not an object of our finite
senses but the ground of reality: primal being, primal cause, primal
ground, primal goal, primal destiny, primal law, primal value.
In Christianity, we meet Him in the concrete lived experience of Jesus
Christ and His followers, who have articulated the truth we have
encountered in creed, celebrated the beauty in liturgy, preserved the
goodness in codes and laws and enjoyed a fellowship in authentic
community. It’s more so a participatory reality than a cognitive thing.
It’s like knowing one’s hometown even if it is difficult to draw a
detailed map for someone else. Sometimes, it’s like knowing your
beloved but not being able to put into words the reasons for your
love with its just-because-ish-ness. Being in relationship to Jesus and
His church is a reward in itself, just like the intrinsic rewards one gets
from pursuing truth, beauty, goodness and unity, which is why we
ascribe such attributes to God and call them divine.
One can pursue and realize some truth, beauty, goodness and unity
without a belief in God and many apparently do. I can only say that my
relationship to God is very much like that and that I suspect we are all
articulating and celebrating these realities best we know how. Life is
good, ain’t it?
December 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm
If as you argue: “God is neither physical. Nor an “object”. You cannot
use scientific methods to detect or analyse God.” Then one has to ask
what the relevance of god is?
If he is unmeasurable then he can have no physical effect on the
world and is thus as pointless in our daily lives as a supernova in a
If you argue that he has a “personal” or “emotional” effect on the
world (in the case of inspiring people to be good). Then the actual
conceptual definition of god is irrelevant as the same effect could be
achieved with any number of conceptual falsehoods that we could tell
each other to inspire decent behavior.
To use one of your earlier examples. If the existence of god can have
no measurable effect other than behavioral in it’s followers, then he
might as well be “Santa” or “the tooth fairy” as any “protagonist” in the
mythological story is interchangeable to achieve the same social
And throughout human history this is seen to be the case as society
mixes and matches to the god(s) or godess(s) of the time.
The actual existence or non-existence of such a being is irrelevant by
your argument and only the story and the results matter.
Why don’t we just drop all the silly mythological stories to justify
decent behavior and just progress down a humanist path without the
un-needed lies and fear?
December 15, 2009 at 5:57 pm
Also in reply to your argument against the teapot
“I am merely highlighting that whilst it is applicable to your other
objects: faeries, dinosaurs in garages, dragons, etc. It is totally
inapplicable to God as God is not an object.”
Then I think you really need to define the “god” we’re talking about
here. Or your defense of _any_ religion is identical and the argument
that any religion is false or true becomes meaningless.
By your argument if any non-entity god is defensible we might as well
be worshiping Zeus or Hecate for all the difference it would make.
December 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm
“Except that in the case of The Holy Bible, it contains testimonies and
eye witnesses accounts of many people stretched across thousands of
years (long before The Birth of Christ).”
And yet, isn’t it strange that in a time of mass media, omnipresent
cameras and communications technology there is a rather long
running absence of any visual evidence or eye witness testimony?
You would think that if god had spent most of his time burning
bushes and leveling cities like he did in the old testament we would
still be seeing such behavior today? Yet in a time when we are unprecidentally connected and able to collect evidence and measure
things beyond our ability to ever do before, suddenly god has gone
very quiet hasn’t he?
It all seemed to happen around the time the bible was written then
nothing since? Seems awfully suspicious to me.
If God really does care about us and want us to be good, why hide?
Why not provide evidence? No Christian has ever really answered this
one to me satisfactorily. If god really is “working in mysterious ways”
by hiding from us… then isn’t that a bit crap? I mean that’s really
rather setting people up to fail.
And lets not even get started on the “Problem of evil” in a world with
an infinitely good god.
John Sobert Sylvest
December 15, 2009 at 7:37 pm
Most human knowledge does not advance from strict formal
argumentation. Especially realities like truth, beauty, goodness and
love are not proved through syllogisms. So, too, with God. If God
could be reduced to a mere object of sense-perception, then, in
principle, by mere definition, we’d not be dealing with God.
Still, through various apologetics – evidential, rational,
presuppositional and existential – arguments have been devised for
God. The arguments are numerous. Any given one of them, alone, as
a strand, cannot really do much heavy epistemic lifting. Taken
together and wound as individual strands into a cable, the individual
arguments form quite a strong and resilient cable of belief. This is
analogous to a cumulative case approach in legal theory where one is
weighing the preponderance of the evidence, or seeking an even
higher level of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not result
in a final, unequivocal proof, which is why, with integrity, we refer to it
This faith is not unreasonable. It is at least equiplausible vis a vis
other putative accounts of primal reality. Here we can apply an
equiplausible principle, which impels us to choose the most lifegiving and relationship-enhancing existential response, when
confronted by two equiplausible accounts requiring pragmatic or
moral action. For example, if we are in a dark yard and see something
on the ground that could be either a snake or a stick, we shall treat it
as a snake and leave it alone. Or, we may encounter an uncertain
universe and wonder if it is friendly and decide that one with God is a
more beautiful and life-giving notion. Now, beauty does not lead in a
truth-conducive manner directly to truth. However, as scientists, we
do recognize its truth-indicative nature, which often leads indirectly
to truth via symmetry, elegance, parsimony, simplicity and so on.
Humankind has found the cumulative case for God very compelling,
overwhelmingly so, this despite the theodicy problem of reconciling a
good God with evil. This is resolved thru formal arguments by
employing only negative predicates (mentioned earlier). But, in the
end, any good theodicy will retain an element of mystery, which is to
recognize that it will remain not wholly satisfactory. Jesus did not
come and answer any of the questions posed in Job or the psalms
about suffering. At least, He did not deal with same propositionally.
Instead, He responded by suffering with us and affirming reality and
Many accept the notion that God, in His utter fullness, had to shrink in
order to make room for creation. Many process theologians view God
as participating in reality’s unfolding with us as free co-creators. In
fact, reality’s probabilistic rather than deterministic nature makes
room for our freedom. True love requires true freedom. True freedom
allows for love’s rejection, which is evil. From this perspective, the
question changes from “why is there evil” to “what am I going to do
about it.” At any rate, I believe that if the cosmos was any less
ambiguous for us and any seemingly less ambivalent toward us that
our belief in God would come very close to being coerced, thereby
limiting our freedom of response and resultingly diminishing our
love. Again, as it is, humankind finds the cumulative case for God to
be quite compelling despite theodicy issues. One could argue we’re
very close to being compelled the way things are.
John Sobert Sylvest
December 15, 2009 at 8:14 pm
We know from semiotic reality, in biosemiotics and the coevolution of
language and the human brain, for example, via Baldwinian evolution,
that there can be a downward causation without the violation of
physical causal closure. This is to recognize and affirm that a tacit
dimension in reality can be ineluctably unobtrusive yet utterly
efficacious via an implicate ordering. By analogy, we do not need to
locate divine causal joints to reasonably interpret reality as being
influenced by God via a divine matrix which controls the initial, limit
and boundary conditions of reality. The classical distinctions between
primary and secondary causality are not only as viable today as
yesteryear but are even more understandable in terms of modern
Imagine a rock flying into one’s yard over a neighbor’s fence and
breaking a window and inflicting other physical damage. We can only
examine its effects. We may wonder if it was thrown by a child or an
adult or a lawn mower or a baseball pitching machine and rule out all
of the above possibilities based on known physical parameters
regarding the velocity, acceleration, mass of the object and so on. We
are employing, then, an apophatic approach, increasing our
descriptive accuracy by saying what the CAUSE was NOT based on
effects as would be proper to other known causes. Analogously, for
the cosmos as a whole, God would be such a cause for that effect (the
cosmos) as would be proper to no other known causes. And we would
predicate of this God all manner of apophatic attributes (not this, not
that) and analogously suggest, via kataphatic attributes, only what he
is LIKE via metaphor.
To wit, God is non-contingent, non-dependent, not subject to
contingent laws, not natural, not logical law (a number, a
mathematical truth, a Platonic form or some other abstraction), not
spatiotemporal, non-finite, not deficient in any sense. Again, one
needs to look at this definition to see how it is immune to parody and
logically valid as a modal argument.
Interestingly, some would say that this God would be unrecognizable
to folk theologians and the average believer, which may be true. It is,
however, the God of the early church fathers, classic medieval
philosophers, mystical theology and modern day theology, Whom
ordinary folk access existentially through prayer, liturgy and
community, even if not via formal construction. The average believer
is employing kataphatic metaphors, of course, along with some
concrete historical experience of Jesus and church community.
December 15, 2009 at 10:04 pm
It is interesting so far in this very good discussion, and thank you all
for your positive contributions, that those arguing for atheism appear
to be following certain pre-set lines, rather than actually engaging
with the material in this thread. Those arguing for theism are
responding to specific points made. No theists here have so far
presented an exclusivist position, as it is termed in Philosophy of
Religion, yet that is assumed in the arguments presented by atheists
here. No theist has so far distracted the thread as atheists have by
talking about different religions, rather than focus on the question at
hand, “There’s probably no God?”
Thanks John for raising this thread from the alpha level of God being
a “supernatural being” that I was wanting to move away from as I
mentioned at the start, towards kappa and beyond, also for the link
which adds the Ontological Argument, recently interestingly revived
by Gödel and others, to the Cosmological Argument mentioned above
(also recently revived, as noted there). I think, John, Paul in a comment
above was offering $1000 you might like to claim ☺ (although he did
switch from seeking a “definition” to wanting an “explanation” –
whatever an “explanation of God” might mean).
I do not think I need add anything to John’s response to your idea that
only that which is measurable can have a physical effect on the world
and thus have a point in our daily lives. As to your inability to find a
single Christian who can explain why God “hides” – that, surely would
be covered in the most basic apologetic text you must have turned to?
CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters Chapter 8 surely must be known to many
Christians that you have turned to – to pick just the first simple very
well-known text that springs to my mind.
If there are new points not covered in the comments above, I hope
people will continue to add them. Otherwise, thank you all again for
the positive tone of this thread, and let us hope that this quality of
discussion continues when the actual advertisements are run.
December 16, 2009 at 7:35 am
Attention atheists, please research the kalam argument and William
Lane Craig. It explains how the latest cosmological scientific theories
are in support existence for a cause for the whole physical universe.
Stop using play on words and old fallacious arguments. If you’re
really interested to know the truth, then start digging into philosophy
and modern scientific findings. Read from both sides or you will just
be fooling yourselves.
December 16, 2009 at 12:16 pm
Are you censoring the posts? There was another post addressing the
use of the word “probably” that I posted after the comment about
them having crossed the $20,000 mark.
I’ve got a screen capture of it with the “awaiting moderation” banner
so I know it was posted okay.
December 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm
In relation to some of the comments, it is worth being reminded that
the concept of the “Big Bang” was first proposed by a priest, Georges
Lemaître, when the scientific community presumed that the universe
was eternal (steady state). So much so that, while Fr Georges called
his proposal “the hypothesis of the primeval atom”, others mocked his
idea, with Fred Hoyle sarcastically calling it his “Big Bang” theory. It
has only been a little over four decades that atheists have had to
agree with theists that the universe had a beginning and have been
scrambling ever since to make sense of this – every theory I have seen
has tended to require more complicated acts of faith than the elegant,
simple acceptance that God is.
I don’t know what you thought I would find in your post contrary to
the comments policy (linked from my original post) – I only run this
site voluntarily, by myself, & in spare moments – because it is such a
popular site it receives a lot of spam (over 10,000 currently). I thought
that was all well explained in my comments policy. Doing a search for
“probably” I managed to find it and it is now on the site.
December 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm
For those that missed it the post was back here.
John Sobert Sylvest
December 17, 2009 at 3:00 am
I’ve met quite a few atheists over the years, all who’d rejected gods
whom I would never choose to worship either.
Patti Lao-W o o d
December 17, 2009 at 10:39 am
Thanks John Sobert Sylvest. I empathize with Atheists to some degree,
the god that many Christians promote is not the one Im familiar with
either. My God cares not a jot whats advertised on the side of buses –
Hes more concerned with what inhabits/inhibits the passengers.
Gandhi said something like ‘Of Jesus I have no doubts but of his
followers I have my concerns’. I have the greatest respect for many a
great thinker/ orator on the things pertaining to our faith – but unlike
Christ, their data is questionable. Sorry Bosco – that was rattling
around in my head and I had to get it out
December 17, 2009 at 12:31 pm
@John Sobert Sylvest
Do you chose not to worship them for the same reasons? i.e. a lack of
evidence for their existence in the first place?
Patti Lao-W o o d
December 17, 2009 at 6:12 pm
My point was that some atheists are as such, because some christians
are the worst manifestations of the things pertaining to the Christian
faith. Atheists are no threat to any faith – its zealous christians that
worry me. The God I worship is the God of gods…its not complicated.
Other gods must exist or who is God the God of…? According to
Scripture there are other gods but our focus is on the God of them all.
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